Part 4: Enthronement of the Sacred Heart and Church Teaching
by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, D.D., J.C.D.
It will come
as no surprise that there has always been a devotion to the Pierced
Heart of Jesus. The Holy Scriptures both reflect a devotion present
in the Church from the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit and inspire
the same devotion in those who reflect upon the Word of God with faith.
It is especially in the application of the Word of God to the daily
life of Christians that Church teaching has encouraged devotion to the
Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In his Encyclical
Letter on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Pius XII commented
on the development of the devotion in the life of the Church from her
are convinced, then, that the devotion which we are fostering to the
love of God and Jesus Christ for the human race by means of the revered
symbol of the Pierced Heart of the crucified Redeemer has never been
altogether unknown to the piety of the faithful, although it has become
more clearly known and has spread in a remarkable manner throughout
the Church in quite recent times. …
if men have always been deeply moved by the Pierced Heart of the Savior
to a worship of that infinite love with which He embraces mankind …
it must yet be admitted that it was only by a very gradual advance that
the honors of a special devotion were offered to that Heart as depicting
the love, human and divine, which exists in the Incarnate Word” (Pope
Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Haurietas Aquas, May 25, 1956, nn.
90 and 93).
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was bound to grow and develop down the
Christian centuries, especially in times when our love of God has grown
cold or we have become indifferent to the love of God. At those times,
God our Father draws us to the Heart of His Son, the image of His immeasurable
love for us, so that we may be inspired and strengthened to love Him
The great teachers
of the Faith, from the beginning days of the Church, always spoke of
the birth of the Church from the wounded side of Christ. Their teaching
was truly theological and, therefore, spiritual. It invited the faithful
to draw from the Pierced Heart of Jesus the grace of salvation, especially
through the Sacraments and, above all, through the Holy Eucharist. Often
the birth of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam was presented as
the foreshadowing of the birth of the Church from the wounded side of
Christ asleep in death.
of Hippo, great teacher of the Church in the West, commented on the
text from the Gospel according to Saint John, recounting the piercing
of the Heart of the crucified Christ:
second Adam with bowed head slept on the cross, in order that a spouse
might be formed for Him from that which flowed from His side as He slept.
Death, by which the dead come to life again! What could be more cleansing
than His blood? What more healing than this wound?” (Treatise on John,
The early Fathers
of the Church taught that, in the Heart of Jesus, the Christian finds
the source of his or her life in Christ. Even as the Church herself
came to birth from the wounded side of Christ, so does each Christian
come to life spiritually from His glorious Pierced Heart which ever
pours out the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit upon us.
Saint John Chrysostom,
great teacher of the Church in the East, also points to the wounded
side of Christ as the source of all grace, the source of our life in
and water at once flowed out of the wound. It is not by mere chance
or unwittingly that these two fountains sprang up at this juncture.
It is because blood and water are two constitutive elements of the Church.
Those already admitted to the sacred rites know this well; those, I
mean, who have been regenerated in the waters of Baptism and who in
the Eucharist feed on Christ’s flesh and blood. It is to this one
source that all the Christian mysteries trace back their origin. And
so when you apply your lips to this awesome cup, do it as though you
drank that precious Blood from the open side of Christ Himself” (Homily
on John, 85).
In his characteristically
strong language, Saint John Chrysostom reminds us of the unity of our
participation in the Holy Mass and the Sacrifice of Calvary. The wounded
side of Christ, His Most Sacred Heart, is a constant reminder to us
of His living presence in our midst, in the hearts of those who love
Him, who place their hearts in His Sacred Heart.
The Middle Ages
development of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus took place
during the Middle Ages. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1070-1153), writing
about the love of Christ, reminds us that, through prayer, our hearts
are made one with the Heart of Christ. Saint Bernard inspired many other
theologians and spiritual writers to reflect lovingly upon the Heart
of Christ as the source of our love of God and of one another.
O’Donnell, in his Heart of the Redeemer, provides us with texts of
a beautiful prayer and hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, composed in
the 12th and 13th centuries. I quote a brief part of the hymn, Summi
Regis Cor (Heart of the Supreme King):
us live so, Heart to heart, Wounded, Jesus, as Thou art. If through
my heart Thou wilt but strike With shame’s arrow, sharp and dire.
Put my heart within Thine own, Hold me, leave me not alone. Here my
heart shall live and die, To Thee ever drawing nigh; Strongly would
it thirst for Thee, Jesus, say not no to me, That it may rest in Thee
content” (Quoted in the reprinted edition of Heart of the Redeemer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), pp. 96-97).
The hymn illustrates,
in a striking way, the intimate love of God and of others, which has
always been inspired by the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, and of the Order of the Friars
Minor, or Franciscans, helped very much to bring the devotion to the
Sacred Heart of Jesus to all the faithful to whom the Friars preached
and ministered. Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars
Minor, meditated so deeply upon the deep internal suffering of the Heart
of Christ that God granted to him the favor of bearing in his own body
the sign of the wounds of Christ, the stigmata, especially His pierced
spiritual son of Saint Francis of Assisi and great theologian of the 13th
century, gave rich expression to what he had learned from Saint Francis
about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He has left to us inspiring
theological reflections on the union of our hearts with the Sacred Heart
of Jesus. In one of his writings, he exclaimed: “Oh, what a blessed
lot is mine to have one heart with Jesus!” (Quoted in Heart of
the Redeemer, p. 101).
17th Century France
The 17th century
witnessed a flowering of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in France.
Three spiritual writers, in particular, helped to spread the devotion
among all the faithful. They are Cardinal Pierre de Berulle, Saint Francis
de Sales and Saint John Eudes. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Saint
Francis de Sales gives the foundation of the devotion to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus:
love is seated within the Savior’s Heart as on a royal throne. He
beholds through the cleft of His pierced side all the hearts of the
children of men. His Heart is King of Hearts, and He keeps His eyes
fixed on our hearts. Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly
while they themselves are only half seen, so too the divine love within
that Heart, or rather that Heart of divine love, always sees our hearts
and looks on them with His eyes of love, while we do not see Him, but
half see Him. If we could see Him as He is, O God, since we are mortal
men we would die for love of Him, just as when He was in mortal flesh
He died for us, and just as He would still die for us were He not now
immortal” (Quoted in Heart of the Redeemer, p.118).
de Sales helps us very much to know how to live always in the presence
of Christ whose Pierced Heart ever lies open for love of us. Saint Francis
de Sales influenced greatly Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, foundress of
the Sisters of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have a
monastery and school in the Saint Louis Archdiocese, in which the devotion
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is very much fostered.
Saint John Eudes
helped to develop the liturgical aspect of the devotion to the Sacred
Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, under which God the
Son took a human heart. Reflecting upon the union of the Heart of Mary
with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint John Eudes referred to the Sacred
Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He also founded a religious order of men and
of women, under the title of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
of men and women religious have been founded under the inspiration of
the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, for example,
Sisters of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Society
of the Sacred Heart and Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus.
The Jesuit Fathers and Brothers also have a strong devotion to the Sacred
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque
Mary Alacoque, a member of the Sisters of the Visitation of the Blessed
Virgin Mary, was deeply imbued with the devotion to the Sacred Heart
of Jesus. Saint Francis of Assisi influenced her very much in her devotion.
At the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial, Christ appeared and revealed
His Sacred Heart. The apparitions took place between December 27, 1673,
and the Octave of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1675. They are
all connected with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. There were four
apparitions, the last of which is the greatest. The apparitions reported
by Saint Margaret Mary are a matter of private revelation. No one is held
to believe in them. They have enjoyed the highest approbation of the
to Saint Margaret Mary were not given to her for her personal consolation
but for a mission which Our Lord confided to her, namely the spread
of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. From the first apparition, Our
Lord made it clear to Saint Margaret Mary that His Heart is burning with
love of mankind and that He desired her to be the Apostle of His Divine
Love, His Sacred Heart.
It was during
the first apparition that Our Lord asked for Saint Margaret Mary’s heart
which she mystically gave to Him. In other words, she placed her heart
completely in His Sacred Heart. The union of her heart with the Sacred
Heart is the model of the placing of our hearts in the Sacred Heart
of Jesus, so that they may be purified of all wrong desire and be aflame
with divine love. At the conclusion of the first apparition, Our Lord
declared to Saint Margaret Mary:
give you now the title of the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart”
(Louis Verheylezoon, SJ, Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Westminster,
Maryland: The Newman Press, 1955), p. xxiv).
It was through
the fourth or great apparition, during the Octave of Corpus Christi
in 1675, that Our Lord spoke the powerful words which express the deep
significance of the devotion to His Sacred Heart:
this Heart which has so loved men that It spared nothing, even going
so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them Its love.
And in return I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude,
by the contempt, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness with which they
treat Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what is still more painful to
Me is that even souls consecrated to Me are acting in this way” (Devotion
to the Sacred Heart, p. xxvii).
Our Lord then
asks that reparation be made and love be inflamed through the consecration
of hearts to His Sacred Heart. Specifically He asked for the observance
of the First Friday Holy Mass and Holy Communion of Reparation, the Holy Hour
on the Thursday night before First Friday (recalling the Agony in the
Garden), and the solemn feast in honor of the Sacred Heart. It was during
the great apparition that Christ revealed the image of His Sacred Heart
that is depicted in statues, paintings and icons: His Pierced Heart
on fire with love, crowned with the Cross and enfolded with the Crown
His Heart to show us how much He loves us. The image which He revealed
to Saint Margaret Mary is understood through the words which He spoke
and which I have just quoted.
Other Testimonies and Papal Teaching
The story of
devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus includes many saintly witnesses.
Saint Therese of Lisieux had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart. Her
autobiography, Story of a Soul, contains as an appendix the words with
which she consecrated her heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, “Act
of Oblation to Merciful Love.”
In his Journal
of a Soul, Blessed Pope John XXIII writes:
everything which concerns the Sacred Heart of Jesus has become familiar
and doubly dear to me. My life seems destined to be spent in the light
irradiating from the tabernacle, and it is to the Heart of Jesus that
I must look for a solution of all my troubles. I feel as if I would
be ready to shed my blood for the cause of the Sacred Heart. My fondest
wish is to be able to do something for that precious object of my love”
(Journal of a Soul (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), pp. 148-149).
to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was the center of his spiritual life.
the death cell of Saint Maximilian Kolbe at the concentration camp of
Auschwitz, in September of 2003, I was shown another death cell
around the corner from that of Saint Maximilian. The guide told the story
of a doctor who died in it. After his death, the guards discovered that
he had etched an image in the plaster of the wall with his finger nails.
When his family was asked what the image could be, they recognized it
immediately as the figure of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was enthroned
in their family home. Placed in the cell to die, the doctor made a wonderful
act of hope in the immeasurable love of God.
especially from Pope Leo XIII to our present Holy Father, holds up the
devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a privileged form of devotional
life for all of the faithful. Quoting Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius XII declared
devotion to the Sacred of Jesus “the most effective school of the
love of God; the love of God, we say, which must be the foundation on
which to build the Kingdom of God in the hearts of individuals, families,
and nations” (Encyclical Letter Haurietas Aquas, n. 123).
I hope that
my reflections will help you to prepare your heart
and home for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May the
Immaculate Heart of Mary intercede for us, that many hearts and homes
will be consecrated, with her Heart, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
of Jesus, of Whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Originally published in the Saint Louis Review, June 18, 2004